President Barack Obama recently announced a plan mandating the inclusion of birth control in all employer-provided health care plans, a move we consider to be appropriate and proactive.
The legislation originally affected almost all employers, including those of religious affiliation (such as Catholic hospitals and universities), but uproar by the GOP on the grounds of hindered religious freedom ultimately led to a restructured proposal. Though churches were originally unaffected by the legislation, Obama’s restructured plan marked every religious institution as exempt, allowing them the option to “opt out” of covering birth control for their employees. As a result, insurance companies will be forced to absorb the cost of coverage which would normally be the employer’s responsibility.
If you’re scratching your head, don’t worry we were confused at first too. Employer-based health care – an international anomaly – allows employers to purchase a coverage plan from a provider in order to cover all of its employees. It is employers’ responsibility to subsidize this coverage in order to make it affordable for their workers. With the restructured legislation, it will no longer be required that these subsidies may be put toward birth control.
Regardless, the decision to force insurers to cover birth control in their health care plans is definitely a clear step in the right direction. Women should have the right to access free contraceptive medicines if they so choose it. The real issue here is choice.
All of us know that the availability of contraception is a good thing. Women should have the individual right to determine what to do with their bodies and this mandate affirms that. Inevitably, there has been backlash from the GOP. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that requiring insurers to cover birth control as part of their health care plan interferes “with your religious beliefs.”
The fact that Republicans can argue that this is an “assault on freedom of faith” is plainly absurd. Just because a woman is given the option of birth control, it is still ultimately up to her and her personal and religious beliefs whether or not she wants to purchase it. Religious institutions should not be able to dictate what a woman can or cannot do with her body. And employers being forced to make it more accessible does, in no way, interfere with anyone’s religious freedom.
Of course we understand why Obama made the concession. Birth control discourse among lawmakers is a never-ending issue, and he felt he needed to draw the line in the sand somewhere. And although we feel the original draft of the mandate was just fine, the final product is still a victory.
Heightened accessibility of proper contraceptive devices is an important step forward. Denying those employed by religious institutions access to birth control is not a hindrance upon religious freedom, but rather directly impedes and stifles the right to individual choice.